NDP tends farm fight in South Surrey
A South Surrey farmer has come out in support of the NDP campaign against the BC Liberals’ Bill 24 – which the party says would “dismantle” the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Jas Singh, owner of South Surrey’s God’s Little Acre – a 75-acre operation that donates the majority of its crops to Metro Vancouver food banks – threw his support behind the campaign Monday, with a news conference on the farm that provided a platform for NDP Leader Adrian Dix, as well as MLAs Lana Popham (Saanich South), sponsor of the party’s proposed BC Local Food Act, and Bruce Ralston (Surrey-Whalley), the party’s house leader.
They all urged the public to put more pressure on the government to withdraw Bill 24, due to be debated in May.
BC Agriculture Council – representing 14,000 farmers and ranchers – has said the bill “threatens the sustainability of agriculture in B.C.”
Singh said the land God’s Little Acre is using represents a combination of farms that are all “part of the ALR, including farms that have not been farmed for 40 years.”
He said there are another 1,000 acres locally in the ALR that could sustain viable food-producing operations for “50 young farmers.”
“We’d be happy to train them,” he said, noting he plans to convert one of his farms to a retail location to help support God’s Little Acre’s charitable function.
Dix said Singh’s operation is an example of combining “community values with something people care about – which is food and food security on a personal, community and global level.”
But Dix said Bill 24 would divide the existing ALR into two zones – one of which would be dedicated to farming, but the largest of which would permit land uses other than farming.
“They (BC Liberals) don’t have an explanation – they’re arguing this is good for some people. Obviously, land values increase for some agricultural land that could be used for something else.”
Former agriculture minister Pat Pimm has said that under Bill 24, Agricultural Land Commission decisions for prime farmland in Zone 1 (including the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, Okanagan Valley and Vancouver Island) will continue to focus on preserving agricultural uses, while farmers in Zone 2 (including the North, the Kootenays and the rest of the Interior) will be given more options to help support farming operations that are much less profitable for reasons of climate and geography.
But Dix said the government is “out of step with what business is doing” in promoting B.C.-grown food – and the public’s reaction to it – noting “hundreds of thousands of people have signed the petition against Bill 24.”
“We have a government that doesn’t have faith in agriculture – in a moment when there is more interest in food and food security than ever before.”
He called on the government, including new Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick, to “step back from the precipice and listen to the people of B.C. who feel this in their heart and soul and self-interest.”
Popham, formerly a farmer on Vancouver Island, said there had been “a groundswell of support” for stopping Bill 24 – legislation, she said, which would “destroy the ALR.”
The NDP’s BC Local Food Act, she said, would address what she has long felt is “a lack of support, policy-wise” for food security.
“Food security has to be a priority for B.C.,” she said. “What we can produce in B.C. is almost everything.”